Archive for November, 2008

Weekend Playlist

17 November 2008

It was another gorgeous weekend in the Bay Area, with weather in the 80′s and the slightest of breezes. The P and I had the windows opened and the turntable fired up all weekend. Here’s what we played…

verve_remixed
Various Artists | Verve Remixed

AC/DC | Back In Black
AC/DC | Back In Black

queens-of-the-stone-age
Queens Of The Stone Age | Songs For The Deaf

Tropicalia | A Brazilian Revolution In Sound
Various Artists | Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution In Sound

Buena Vista Social Club | At Carnegie Hall
Buena Vista Social Club | At Carnegie Hall

Fred Neil | Bleecker & MacDougal
Fred Neil | Bleecker & MacDougal

Terry Reid
Terry Reid | Terry Reid

Kings Of Convenience | Quiet Is The New Loud
Kings Of Convenience | Quiet Is The New Loud

Bo Diddley | Big Bad Bo
Bo Diddley | Big Bad Bo

Funkadelic | Uncle Jam Wants You
Funkadelic | Uncle Jam Wants You

Hercules And Love Affair
Hercules And Love Affair | Hercules And Love Affair

Gorillaz | Demon Days
Gorillaz | Demon Days

Various Artists | Disco Hustle
Various Artists | Disco Hustle

massive_attack-protection
Massive Attack | Protection

Love | Da Capo
Love | Da Capo

Nick Drake | Family Tree
Nick Drake | Family Tree

Blue Mitchell | The Thing To Do
Blue Mitchell | The Thing To Do

Sly & The Family Stone | There's A Riot Goin' On
Sly & The Family Stone | There’s A Riot Goin’ On

Talking Heads | The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads
Talking Heads | The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads

Gomez | In Our Gun
Gomez | In Our Gun

The Flying Burrito Brothers | Burrito Deluxe
The Flying Burrito Brothers | Burrito Deluxe

Jurassic 5 | Quality Control
Jurassic 5 | Quality Control

John Phillips | John, The Wolfking Of L.A.
John Phillips | John, The Wolfking Of L.A.

Groove Armada | Lovebox
Groove Armada | Lovebox

Young-Holt Unlimited | Plays Superfly
Young-Holt Unlimited | Plays Superfly

The Band | Music From Big Pink
The Band | Music From Big Pink

M. Ward | Transfiguration Of Vincent
M. Ward | Transfiguration Of Vincent

Love's A Real Thing
Various Artists | World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s A Real Thing

Various Artists | Ghana Soundz
Various Artists | Ghana Soundz

Masterpiece: British Steel

16 November 2008

[Today: Judas Priest vs. Lima Beans...]

judas-priest-britsh-steel

I’ve always been a picky eater, and while I was growing up I waged some epic vegetable-related battles with my mom around the dinner table – sometimes sitting in front of a cold, untouched plate of lima beans until 10pm. “Your taste buds will develop, and mark my words, when you get older you’ll love lima beans” she used to warn me. Of course, she was totally wrong about the lima beans (yuck), but she was right in general. My tastes have developed as I’ve gotten older, and I like a lot of things that I used to turn my nose up at, including artichokes, documentaries, lager, and heavy metal.

For those of us who entered high school during the 80′s, there is much to forget about that era. I’m mostly reminded of acid-washed jeans, bad haircuts and Ronald Reagan (double yuck). Metal wasn’t on the menu for me during most of the decade, and until a few years back it was just another unpleasant reminder of a period full of them. But I’ll be damned if 80′s Metal doesn’t sound remarkably fresh to these jaded old ears. Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil, Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast, and crucially, Judas Priest’s British Steel have become cherished totems of a time gone by.

80′s Metal is an easy target for comedians and critics, but what makes this music sound so fresh today is the indisputable sincerity behind it. Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing and company were dead serious about this stuff and that 100% earnestness comes across in every machine gun guitar riff and pounding drum fill. It’s little wonder that ‘Breaking The Law’ became Beavis and Butthead’s theme song – listening to it today makes me want to bust a plate glass window and slash some tires.

British Steel is a classic from the front cover in. The legendary artwork provided a menacing and memorable image that would eventually see use in an Absolut Vodka ad (see below). Singles ‘Living After Midnight’ ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘United’ pushed the album to platinum sales, making it their most popular release. It’s become an Absolut favorite of mine, providing a weekly shot of healthy enthusiasm that more than makes up for a few missed servings of lima beans.

Listen: Breaking The Law

Listen: Living After Midnight

*****

Absolut Priest [click thumbnail to view]

Walking The Line

15 November 2008

The Johnny Cash Guy

Our friend Kathryn just posted a hilarious and touching review on Yelp! for SF’s very own Johnny Cash Guy (pictured above).

Here’s a tantalizing excerpt:

Okay, so yeah. One day I’m heading to the Old Nine to Five when I get to the 24th Street BART Station and heard the familiar strains of the The Johnny Cash Guy. Seriously, that dude can make even going to work hurt a little less. Then, on the escalator heading down into the bowels of the city, INSPIRATION.

I turn around and catch him between songs. I hurriedly explain the above story and he sorta shrugs and gives me Intimidating Rocker Look #984 that says “You’re cutting into my play time.” So I finish up and tell him I want him to come play at my wedding. He shrugs and gives me his number.

So I procrastinate on calling him (see Intimidating Rocker Look above), but finally I do. I remind him of who I am, and he’s nice as fucking pie. We shoot the shit for a while and nail down the time and date and address. I explain to him that I just want him to play ONE song and one song only. I’ll happily pay him for the entire hour, but I just need one song. And I’m so fucking excited I’m about to wet myself and I think there’s no way I’m gonna be able to keep it from my wife-to-be for two whole weeks.

Kathryn and Melissa exchanged vows on October 25th, 2008. They had a lovely reception that was packed with smiling friends (including the P and I) and happy family. And then ten days later, voters in California passed Proposition 8, stripping gays and lesbians of the right to marry, and casting the legality of Kathryn and Melissa’s marriage into doubt.

This is totally unacceptable. That one group of people should decide the constitutional rights of another group seems legally dubious to me. That anyone with a conscience could deny others to aspire to the highest, most permanent form of love is truly baffling. Churches supposedly preach love and compassion, but many churches were involved in passing a ballot measure that constitutionally bans such expressions for a portion of the population.

If you think this is just a gay/lesbian issue, ask yourself this: would you like the electorate voting on the legality and relevance of your marriage or relationship? My friends are being discriminated against, and I’m taking it very personally.

These are the final steps of a civil rights march that started decades ago, and gays and lesbians will not be turned back in their quest for equality under the law. The Declaration of Independence promises the inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s past time for this country to make good on that clause for all of its citizens…

A Dozen Great AC/DC Songs

14 November 2008

AC/DC

AC/DC has never made the kind of music that drives eggheads and bookworms to seek out cross-references in their poetry anthologies, but few bands are better at the kind of pulverizing, crude hard rock that these Aussies have been serving up for the last 30+ years. Bon Scott, the group’s original lead singer, was one of the most gifted and charismatic rock singers of the 70′s, but he drank himself to death in February of 1980. The band hardly missed a beat, picking up a brand new belter in Brian Johnson, and releasing Back In Black (itself a tribute to Bon Scott) within a mere few months. It quickly became one of the best-selling albums of all-time, and established them as one of the top draws in rock.

AC/DC is what I think of as a ‘Rorschach Band’. Depending on whose ears you’re listening with, they either sounds dumb, sinister and loud, or… well, they always sound like that, but for a lot of us that’s a great thing. I grew up in Springfield, OR, and in that blue collar neck of the woods listening to AC/DC was as much of a rite of passage into adulthood as sprouting pimples or skipping the junior prom. Of course, our high school parking lot was full of Camaros and El Caminos, and AC/DC’s brand of “high voltage rock and roll” always sounded great pumping out of those muscle cars.

With the recent release of their umpteenth album, Black Ice, I thought it was a good time to take a stroll down memory lane, and review a dozen of their finest tunes. “Are there really a dozen?” the P asked me rhetorically on her way out the door today. Honey, if you ask me, there are at least three dozen, but let’s start with these twelve, from twelve different albums…

AC/DC | T.N.T.
The song: ‘T.N.T.’ (from the LP T.N.T.)

What makes it great: Bon Scott compares himself to a stick of dynamite, then lives up to it.

Key lyrics: “So lock up your daughter n’ lock up your wife/Lock up your back door and run for your life”

Listen: T.N.T.

AC/DC | High Voltage
The song: ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)’ (from the LP High Voltage)

What makes it great: Best… bagpipes… ever. This is also an eye-opening tale of the slime pit that any band has to crawl through to make it big.

Key lyrics: “Getting old, getting grey/Getting ripped off, underpaid/Getting sold, second hand/That’s how it goes playing in a band”

Listen: It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)

album-acdc-dirty-deeds-done-dirt-cheap
The song: ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ (from the LP Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap)

What makes it great: Got a dirty job that needs handling? Bon Scott’s your man. This lurid little song features one of the best of the thousands of insanely catchy guitar riffs that Angus Young has knocked out over the years.

Key lyrics: “For a fee, I’m happy to be/Your back door man”

Listen: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

acdcletthereberock
The song: ‘Let There Be Rock’ (from the LP Let There Be Rock)

What makes it great: Bon Scott rips through this song like he’s reading the lyrics from the holy scriptures of Rock-n-Roll. Hilarious, over-the-top, and absolutely mesmerizing, this powerhouse performance is quintessential Bon.

Key lyrics: “”Let there be light/Sound/Drums/Guitar/Let there be rock”

Watch:

AC/DC | Powerage
The song: ‘Sin City’ (from the LP Powerage)

What makes it great: Las Vegas is a place where the party never stops, and this is the perfect soundtrack for it.

Key lyrics: “So, spin that wheel, cut that pack/And roll those loaded dice/Bring on the dancing girls/And put the champaign on ice”

Listen: Sin City

if-you-want-blood-youve-got-it
The song: ‘Problem Child’ (from the LP If You Want Blood You’ve Got It)

What makes it great: Recorded live on their 1978 world tour, this is a tantalizing slice of AC/DC’s epic live show. This bruising version surpasses the excellent studio cut that appears on Dirty Deeds.

Key lyrics: “What I want I take/What I don’t I break/And I don’t want you”

ac-dc-highway-to-hell
The song: ‘Highway To Hell’ (from the LP Highway To Hell)

What makes it great: This ode to the long, hard road of concert touring was generally misunderstood to be some kind of pact-with-Satan thing. Here Bon Scott sounds bone-tired, and he would be dead before AC/DC would complete another album.

Key lyrics: “Hey Satan/Payin’ my dues/Playin’ in a rockin’ band/Hey mumma/Look at me/I’m on the way to the promised land”

Listen: Highway To Hell

AC/DC | Back In Black
The song: ‘Back In Black’ (from the LP Back In Black)

What makes it great: Channeling their grief and cranking the volume to 11, the band soldiered on with new singer Brian Johnson, who sings here like a man shrieking into the void.

Key lyrics: “I’ve been looking at the sky/’Cause it’s gettin’ me high/Forget the hearse ’cause I never die”

Watch: Back In Black

For Those About To Rock We Salute You
The song: ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)’ (from the LP For Those About To Rock We Salute You)

What makes it great: I played this song on the jukebox at Jack’s Cable Car bar in SF every time I set foot in the place… for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the regulars thought of me as “that AC/DC guy.” The place was full of loonies, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this song was the best thing about that bar.

Key lyrics: “Stand up and be counted/For what you are about to receive”

acdc | who_made_who
The song: ‘Who Made Who’ (from the LP Who Made Who)

What makes it great: Created for a forgettable Stephen King movie, this song instantly, and rightly, took its place among their best tunes. It has been a concert staple ever since.

Key lyrics: “Who made who?/Who turned the screw?”

74-jailbreak
The song: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ (from the ep ’74 Jailbreak)

What makes it great: ’74 Jailbreak rounds up the songs from the Australian pressings of their first two albums that had been left off the US pressings. This cover of Big Joe Williams’ classic reveals the blues/rock heart that beats within the band’s heavy metal exterior.

Key lyrics: “Baby please don’t go down to New Orleans/You know I love you so/Baby please don’t go”

Watch:

AC/DC | Bonfire
The song: ‘Live Wire’ (from the box set Bonfire)

What makes it great: Recorded live at Atlantic Studios on December 7th, 1977, this song crackles with the electricity promised in the lyrics. This fully-charged performance was unearthed for the appropriately titled 1997 box set Bonfire.

Key lyrics: “Well if you’re lookin’ for trouble/I’m the man to see/If you’re lookin’ for a-satisfaction/I’m satisfaction guaranteed”

Listen: Live Wire

Mitch Mitchell (1947-2008)

12 November 2008

Mitch Mitchell

John “Mitch” Mitchell, drummer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was found dead in a Portland, OR hotel room early this morning. He was 61.

Widely acknowledged as one of rock’s best drummers, Mitchell played a key role in shaping and driving the JHE sound. He was primarily influenced by Jazz drummers such as Max Roach and Elvin Jones, but Mitchell was adept at a wide range of styles, enabling him to keep pace with Hendrix at all times, no matter if they were off to Saturn or the bottom of the sea. He anchored the landmark albums Are You Experienced?, Axis Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland, and was behind the kit for Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and Isle Of Wight.

Mitch Mitchell was no sideman. He was every bit as innovative and proficient on the drums as Hendrix was on guitar. Former Experience manager Chaz Chandler revealed how he and Hendrix came to choose Mitchell for the JHE over Aynsley Dunbar: “We actually tossed a coin and it came down for Mitch.” Good thing – they got one of the best in the business.

Listen: Fire

Listen: Manic Depression

[Both songs are from the album Live At Winterland]

Instant Classic: The Way I See It

12 November 2008

[Today: Raphael Saadiq fires up a Motown-fueled time machine...]

Raphael Saadiq | The Way I See It

Good from the first drop of the needle, The Way I See It is a welcome throwback to the Motown Sound® of the 1960′s. Rapheal Saadiq channels The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Jackson Five, and more into an album that could have dropped 40 years ago. But Saadiq – a former member of 90′s hit-makers Toni! Tony! Tone! and producer of Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Joss Stone and others – doesn’t just mimic the dusty sound of yesteryear, he matches his musical heroes hook for hook, layering in honeyed doo-wop harmonies, and creating the kind of no-filler album that could have been the soundtrack for my parents’ senior prom.

On his website, Saadiq reveals the unlikely inspiration for this album: “I was out of the country, cooling out in Costa Rica and The Bahamas. I was surfing and ran into people from all kinds of places… and I noticed everybody was listening to this classic soul music and when I came back home the music for this album flowed organically, naturally.” But that doesn’t mean that Saadiq just knocked the album out in a long weekend – he had the luxury of many months, and drew upon his considerable production skills, to re-create the sound and spirit of those golden oldies.

A minor quibble – wholly unnecessary cameos by Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z break the musical spell that Saadiq has worked so hard to weave. Wonder’s harmonica solo fits the mood just fine, except for the lavish (“I’d like to invite Mr Stevie Wonder to my album… come on Stevie!”) introduction that draws too much attention to itself. Jay-Z’s place here is more difficult to square away, but if his brand name appeal helps bring Saadiq’s neo-soul to the attention of a younger audience, then it’s well worth any Hova-related disassociation. Regardless, The Way I See It has me looking forward to spending more time with those old Motown albums, and picking up a little of that Bahamas vibe for my own self.

Listen: 100 Yard Dash

Listen: Sure Hope You Mean It

Listen: Keep Marchin’

Doubleshot Tuesday: Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea/Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

11 November 2008

[Today: Landscapes from the city, landscapes from the country...]

stories_from_the_city
neko-case

Polly Jean Harvey is an imposing post-feminist musician. She plays a mean guitar, writes tough songs (her lyrics wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of Keith Richards’ mouth) and strikes a glamorous profile. Her finest album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is an often wistful portrait of life in The Big Apple, where promises are broken, people float along, and the whores hustle. Her songwriting has always trended towards brutal honesty, but here she observes and reports in oblique details, leaving it to the listener to find the big truths scattered among the little lies. ‘You Said Something’ finds her singing “On a rooftop in Brooklyn/One in the morning/Watching the lights flash in Manhattan/I see the five bridges, the Empire State Building/And you said something that I’ve never forgotten”. She doesn’t reveal what that “something” is, but Harvey’s voice – tired, sad and exhilarated – says it all.

Don’t be fooled by the inappropriately whimsical cover art that adorns Fox Confessor Brings The Flood – this is an album as deep and wide as the Mississippi River. Neko Case has a voice that could cut glass, and here she uses is to conjure sad characters trapped in bad circumstances. This album has been derided in certain circles as a lovely bunch of nonsense, but beneath every twisted phrase lies the somber, reflective yearning of Case’s vocals. Like Hank Williams, she can wring tears out of the most ordinary words, her voice innately conveying the crushing weight of life’s endless tragedies. On the title track she laments on what happens when one leaves home and returns a different person. “Driving home I see those flooded fields/How can people not know what beauty this is/I’ve taken it for granted my whole life/Since the day I was born.” Both PJ Harvey and Neko Case manage to turn life’s little defeats into something remarkable.

Listen: You Said Something [PJ Harvey]

Listen: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood [Neko Case]

Weekend Playlist

10 November 2008

Here’s our playlist from the weekend that was. ‘Twas a schizophrenic weekend of weather in the Bay Area, with rain and cold on Saturday and sunshine and smiles on Sunday. I started a post of ‘Albums For Autumn’, but the nice weather yesterday convinced me to save it for another time. Until then…

Calexico | Carried To Dust
Calexico | Carried To Dust

Raphael Saadiq | The Way I See It
Raphael Saadiq | The Way I See It

donny-hathaway-live
Donny Hathaway | Live

The Best Of The Sir Douglas Quintet
The Sir Douglas Quintet | The Best Of

Betty Davis
Betty Davis | Betty Davis

Brass Construction IV
Brass Construction | Brass Construction IV

lcd_soundsystem_sound_of_silver
LCD Soundsystem | Sound Of Silver

howlin_wolf
Howlin’ Wolf | Howlin’ Wolf

tom-waits-rain-dogs
Tom Waits | Rain Dogs

radiohead-in_rainbows
Radiohead | In Rainbows

U2 | Joshua Tree
U2 | The Joshua Tree

led_zeppelin_II
Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin II

ac/dc_high_voltage
AC/DC | High Voltage

Ray Charles | Live In Concert
Ray Charles | Live In Concert

Mother's Finest
Mother’s Finest | Another Mother Further

Zapp | Zapp
Zapp | Zapp

Funkadelic | The Electric Spanking Of War Babies
Funkadelic | The Electric Spanking Of War Babies

the-meters-fire-on-the-bayou
The Meters | Fire On The Bayou

Magic Moment: Marvin Gaye Sings The National Anthem

7 November 2008

Marvin Gaye delivers an amazing rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the 1983 NBA All-Star game at The Forum in Los Angeles, CA. And a nice cameo by Jack Sikma…

Buried Treasure: Blade Runner Soundtrack

6 November 2008

[Today: Vangelis scores the Bush/Cheney years...]

Bladerunner Soundtrack

I’ll admit it, I never really got the phenomenon that was Blade Runner. I always thought of it as an interesting little action-adventure/sci-fi flick, starring Harrison Ford and some hot cyborgs. This 1982 movie, and its futuristic, techno-slum sets, eerily captures a future where technology has overrun everyday life. It’s a place where the buildings and city streets are rotting away, and the humans left in the rubble seem devoid of much soul. As far as I can tell, the ironic point of the film is that the cyborgs (or “replicants”) are thought to be dangerous to civilization, yet they’re more alive and open to the possibility of life than the humans who hunt them. This was certainly the most wooden performance of Ford’s career, and that’s been one of the reasons I’ve always cast a suspicious eye on it.

Fortunately (or extremely unfortunately, depending on your sanity level), those fine public servants – President Bush and Vice-President Cheney – have spent the last eight years hammering home the significance of this film. Bush and Cheney are obviously big fans of director Ridley Scott (and George Orwell’s 1984, for that matter), because they’ve set out to recreate the world of Blade Runner in full: rape the environment, let the cities decay, deny basic rights, disenfranchise the poor, spy on the citizenry, and hunt down anyone who’s even remotely different. The main pretense of Blade Runner is a destructive war of Good vs Evil that turns out to be phony-baloney propaganda. Sound familiar?

Vangelis lays down the perfect atmosphere for such nonsense: creepy little synthesizer lines that have the requisite anxiety and claustrophobia. Of course, it sounds like a 25 year-old vision of the future – the audio equivalent of one of those World’s Fair exhibits featuring flying cars and talking toasters. But that’s what makes this soundtrack such a quaint gem: it’s nice to go back to a time when the grim world of Blade Runner was reserved for the provinces of fantasy and science fiction.

Listen: Love Theme


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